NEW YORK — The Pittsburgh Penguins have had so much success at Madison Square Garden, they might not have to make a return trip to Broadway until next season.
Brandon Sutter scored a short-handed goal to break a second-period tie, and the Penguins rode that momentum to move within one win of the Eastern Conference finals with a 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Wednesday night.
Pittsburgh, which has won three straight following a series-opening loss, can advance with a Game 5 victory at home Friday night. The Penguins are looking to reach the East finals for the second straight year and the fourth in seven seasons.
“We know they are going to be desperate,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “They have a lot of depth, and a lot of guys that can create things, so we have to have the same mentality that we had.”
The Penguins turned a tied series into a 3-1 lead at the Garden, where they have won seven of nine and are 12-4 since Dan Bylsma became their coach. Overall, Pittsburgh is 19-5 against the Rangers in the playoffs and 9-2 in New York.
“This is one of the best places to come in and play,” Bylsma said. “It’s a great building and we seem to always have a rivalry with the Rangers, so we don’t need that motivation for the playoffs. I don’t have a good recipe for you.”
A good start certainly helped.
Evgeni Malkin scored 2:31 in, and Jussi Jokinen made it 3-1 at 7:02 of the third before the teams traded late goals. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 13 shots.
The only negative for the Penguins was that Fleury allowed a goal for the first time in three games. Carl Hagelin’s tying tally in the second period was the Rangers’ first goal in 145 minutes, 30 seconds of playing time.
Mats Zuccarello cut it to 3-2 with 6:53 left on the Rangers’ second shot of the third, but Chris Kunitz restored Pittsburgh’s two-goal edge 57 seconds later.
Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves in the loss.
“This is not the ideal night for us,” Rangers forward Brad Richards said. “The good thing is … we’re still in it. We win Game 1, we are on top of the world. You lose three in a row, and as quick as it went that way it can go right back.
“We want to try to bring it back here. Our goal is to keep pushing the series along. You never know what can happen.”
The weary Rangers played for the sixth time in nine nights, and not even a full rest day on Tuesday or the return of forward Chris Kreider helped. Kreider played for the first time since breaking his left hand a month ago.
Jokinen, who has an eight-game points streak, made it 3-1 with a shot that struck the right leg of Rangers defenceman Marc Staal and bounded past Lundqvist.
Pittsburgh had regained the lead late in the second period by pouncing on New York’s inept power play. Not only did the Rangers fail to score for the 36th consecutive advantage, they fell behind for the second time.
New York threw all the momentum back to the Penguins when Sutter scored with 1:33 left in the second. The Rangers turned over the puck shortly after a drop pass in the neutral zone. Brian Gibbons streaked in alone and had his shot stopped by Lundqvist, but the rebound sat in front and Sutter scored his fourth of the post-season.
“It was huge momentum for us going into the third,” Crosby said. “The way we played in the third showed that we fed off that.”
The Rangers broke out of their drought 4:30 into the second when Ryan McDonagh passed the puck from his end to Hagelin, who took off with a burst of speed, split the defence, and snapped in his third of the playoffs to tie it.
It was New York’s first goal since Derick Brassard’s overtime winner in Game 1.
Any early lift the Rangers got from the return of Kreider was lost when Malkin gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead.
New York contributed greatly as a turnover by defenceman Anton Stralman started the play. The Penguins pressured and moved the puck freely. Crosby got it to the right of Lundqvist and sent a pass across the slot — that slid past Kunitz and somehow eluded Staal — onto the stick of Malkin, who snapped in a backhander for his fifth of the playoffs on Pittsburgh’s first shot.
The Rangers’ sloppiness didn’t end there. Several passes missed their targets, and multiple clearing attempts ended up on Penguins sticks. But New York mounted an extended challenge and kept the puck in the Pittsburgh end for at least a minute with about 6 minutes remaining in the first period.
However, despite tiring out the Penguins, the Rangers had only one shot during the sequence that ended when Staal was called for slashing.
“Our puck management and execution weren’t very good, and ultimately cost us the game,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “I can’t explain it, but there is nothing we can do about it.”